One day the teacher said, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”

The attendant replied, “The fan is broken.”

The teacher said, “Then bring me the rhinoceros.”

~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 91

In speaking with a friend the other day, and trying to illustrate a point, I said, “We are not in the business of putting lipstick on a pig. We are selling the pig and buying a rhinoceros.” By that, I meant that in traditional Western therapy, we often try to replace an old story (I am weak and no good) with a new one (I am not weak, and I am good!). But in doing that, we are just swapping one story for another. To a point, that is fine. But in Zen, we are not in the business of swapping stories, we are trying to change the whole game. We want to sell the pig and buy a rhinoceros.

My friend, about five years ago, was diagnosed with severe, chronic rheumatoid arthritis in his back. He recently wrote: “Just thought I would share an experience…I went to a new primary care doctor today. She said (in a sympathetic way) you are too young (I’m 41) to have all these problems. This struck an emotional nerve in me. After the visit, walking to my car I felt sorrow. So I watched this deep sense of sorrow, which seemed to come out of no-where. The sadness had a deep quality of beauty in it. Beauty and sadness for me felt very similar. After observing sorrow for a while, it faded away. So finding beauty in sorrow helped me blend the “good” emotions with the “bad” emotions. This is all (the koan) No.”

My friend is learning, I think, that pain need not turn into suffering. Author Ezra Bayda, who for years lived with a debilitating auto-immune disease, wrote: “We must first understand that both our pain and our suffering are truly our path, our teacher. While this understanding doesn’t necessarily entail liking our pain or our suffering, it does liberate us from regarding them as enemies we have to conquer. Once we have this understanding, which is a fundamental change in how we relate to life, we can begin to deal with the layers of pain and suffering that make up so much of our existence.”

We rode in on a little piggy, and chances are no one wants to buy ours because, after all, they already have one. And maybe, at first, we only see and, and perhaps, touch the rhino. But eventually, we may be in for a true surprise: we may find that that our pig, in fact, is a rhino in disguise.